NFC North: Final Word NFC 2010 Week 16

Final Word: NFC North

December, 24, 2010
12/24/10
4:00
PM ET
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Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Andrew Weber/US PresswireGreg Jennings and the Packers may be best served going to the spread offense against the Giants.
Crunch time: This is it for the Green Bay Packers, who entered the season as preseason favorites to win the NFC North and have fought through an avalanche of injuries to put themselves in this position: Win Sunday against the New York Giants and next week against the Chicago Bears to guarantee themselves a playoff spot. If they lose Sunday, they're eliminated from contention. That scenario has made for a playoff-type week at Packers practices, where quarterback Aaron Rodgers has returned from a concussion and linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) was cleared to practice in pads for the first time in nearly two months. It's all-or-nothing time for the Packers.

Tempting: The Packers' run game looked better than ever in last Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium, and it's natural to suggest they try to control this game in a similar manner -- especially considering the Giants' fearsome pass rush. But here's a thought: With Rodgers now back in the lineup, why not return to the spread scheme they used with great success earlier this season? We'll define the spread as using four or more wide receivers at the same time. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants have seen that alignment on only 13 plays this season. The Packers have used it 134 times, third most in the NFL, and averaged 6.2 yards per play in it. The danger is leaving the Giants' pass-rushers in mostly one-on-one situations. But if Rodgers can release the ball quickly enough, he can neutralize that rush and have another option for controlling the clock on a wintry day at Lambeau Field.

Matchups at Soldier Field: Based on the way the Chicago Bears' defense has played against every quarterback except presumptive MVP Tom Brady, chances are it will hold its own against the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez. That's assuming Sanchez plays with a shoulder injury that limited him in practice this week. Sanchez has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions against defenses that keep seven or more players in coverage, a scheme the Bears play better than anyone in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Jets' defense plays so well against the short passing game -- opponents are completing an NFL-low 58.9 percent of passes thrown 10 yards or fewer -- that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler might be tempted to look more downfield. He probably has some confidence after last Monday's 67-yard touchdown pass to receiver Johnny Knox, but generally speaking, the smart play is not to challenge the Jets' defense.

Bad history: There are many reasons to question whether the Minnesota Vikings have a chance to win Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. One is Michael Vick. Another is Joe Webb. And there is also the pesky little issue of the Vikings, over an extended period of time, being unable to overcome tough weather conditions when pushed outside of the Metrodome. You saw an inkling of that tendency last Monday at TCF Bank Stadium, and here is the updated statistic, according to ESPN Stats & Information: Over the past 20 years, the Vikings have won exactly one prime-time game when the temperature at kickoff was below 40 degrees. That came in a 2005 Monday night game at Lambeau Field. Otherwise, they are 1-6 in those games over that span.

More history: Can the Detroit Lions win consecutive road games for the first time since 2004? It's not as crazy as it might sound. When they travel to Sun Life Stadium this weekend, the Lions will face a Miami Dolphins team that is 1-6 at home this season. The Lions played it coy this week about the identity of their starting quarterback. It could be Drew Stanton for the fourth consecutive game, or it could be Shaun Hill. But no matter who is behind center, the Lions are hoping to continue their late-season momentum and escape the cellar of the NFC North for the first time since 2007.

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